Friday, May 31, 2024

That historic verdict

The conviction yesterday of former President Donald Trump in a New York state court on thirty-four felony counts was, everyone agrees, historic, the first such conviction of a former president of the United Sates. But I am not concerned here with the rightness or wrongness of the verdict; instead, I have been asked was it "a historical event" or "an historical event"? 

Kai Ryssdal insisted on Twitter that it should be "an historic," and David Hobby (who took the photograph at the top of this blog) flagged me to weigh in. 

We use the indefinite article "a" before words beginning with "h" when the "h" is aspirated: a hat, a home, a haven. We use the indefinite article "an" before words beginning with "h" when instead of an aspirated "h" there is a vowel sound: an hour, an honor.  

The dispute rises over which indefinite article to use when a word begins with an "h" that is weakly aspirated because the stress comes on the second syllable of the word; thus some speakers say and write an historic or an hotel. (I doubt that you would say "a HO-tel" unless you were content to sound like a rube, but that's on you.) 

Bryan Garner, among other authorities, dismisses that argument, saying that everyone should "avoid pretense" and use "a" before all words beginning with "h," warning that practice to the contrary smells of affectation. 

Good people, this is America and English is your language, to wield it as it suits you, and I for one am sticking with an historic. People have been telling me that I "talk like a book" since the second Eisenhower administration, and I am not prepared to abandon the habits of a lifetime.